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How To Safely Bring Your Employees Back To Work During & After COVID-19

July 13, 2020

“The key is to keep the DNA of the business intact so that when we come back out of this incredible, unique situation, we have all the building blocks we started with before to spring right back into business.-Kevin O’Leary 

Reopening your business during & after COVID-19 can be an undertaking task, with employee safety being paramount. How can you ensure your employees feel safe to return to work and adapt back into a safe work environment? 

There are steps and actions you can take to ensure your employees are being supported and taken care of during these uncertain times. Take a look below of ways to implement health and safety measures you can use in your business. 

1. Make the Workplace Physically Safe

Upon returning to work after COVID-19, health and safety should be your biggest focus. You need to ensure the physical workplace is safe for employees to work in.

First things first, hire a cleaning service to deep clean the entire office. They will have high-grade cleaning solutions that will kill more germs than typical cleaning products. Get the cleaners to disinfect both common areas and individual workspaces. This is also the perfect opportunity to shampoo carpets and clean air ducts.

Even if no one has been in your workplace for weeks, a deep cleaning of the office will put your staff at ease and bring forth a positive mindset for everyone. Next, increase the standards of daily cleaning for your office. Have your cleaning contract to include disinfecting work stations nightly and cleaning common areas multiple times throughout the day. 

2. Promote Good Hygiene

It is extremely important to encourage employees to keep themselves safe and healthy. You and your employees must be mindful of keeping their own work spaces clean and clutter free. Providing your employees with disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer at their individual work spaces will help your employees feel that they are being cared for.  

Another tool to consider is temperature checks upon arrival and departure from the office. It provides another level of safety and reassurance for your employees. Non contact forehead thermometers are available for the utmost safety.

In addition, signs should be placed in common areas with information such as:

  • Cough/sneeze into a tissue or elbow
  • Wash hands regularly
  • Not coming into work when they feel ill

Make it easy for employees to follow good hygiene practices by keeping well stocked supplies on hand. Order supplies weeks ahead of returning to work after COVID-19, such as:

Common areas should have all of the above readily available. Remember, some of your staff may be more nervous and unsure than others. Providing these supplies will help your employees have a better mindset and will help people to focus on work, not focus on whether or not the workplace is safe and clean.

3. Support Your Employees’ Mental Health

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on people both physically and mentally. Employees of all kinds can show signs of anxiety,  whether they have concerns about contracting the virus, prolonged social isolation, or family and friends who are sick. To help counter this, employers can consider providing free mental health and wellness services. HR teams should be aware of the potential effects and have resources ready to help.

Inform managers of any of these mental health effects and ask them to monitor their employees. Effects from isolation, plus trying to get back to a regular work routine can be difficult, it is important to know how to spot employees who are struggling.

Mental health resources are available (mental health hotlines, local treatment centers, therapists covered by benefits) and share them via a company-wide email or by directly speaking to your employees privately (if your staff numbers are limited). You could also set up a mental health support group for employees to share their feelings and any worries they may have.

Mental Health services are available for employers on a provincial and federal level, some of which include:

Mental Health Commission of Canada

Alberta Health Services

“We are all navigating this new normal together. As we lock arms virtually and try to help one another in the ways we can, our vast world suddenly feels a little smaller and a lot more connected. And for that, we are grateful.” -Michael Dell 

4. Social Interaction And Office Repopulation

Be sure to make this process gradual and appropriate. You need to be able to operate your business, while taking into account the individual circumstances of your employees (vulnerability, caring responsibilities, socially isolated). Ensure you have two-way communication with employees. Encourage your staff to keep their manager informed of their individual circumstances and to raise questions and concerns regarding their return to work.

After so much time apart, socializing can go one of two ways for employees. Some might feel awkward, like they are meeting their coworkers for the first time all over again. Others might have missed their colleagues so much that they will risk productivity to socialize. 

“The secret of crisis management is not good vs   bad, it's the preventing bad from getting worse” - Ken Matos

 5. Bring Back Productivity

After months of working remotely, employees have most likely fallen into a home office routine. Going back to work may be exciting and a blessing for some employees, but from travelling/commuting, earlier wake up times and having less flexible work hours might have some employees feeling overwhelmed.

Dealing with reluctance to give up remote working will be the biggest challenge for HR teams. To help the transition, employers/management should:

A huge goal of returning to work after COVID-19 is to get employees back to work with as little interruption as possible. To accomplish this, make the office feel as normal as possible.

Make sure employees have all the equipment and supplies they will need to get right to work on their first day back. Keep up with workplace rituals if it is safe to do so (signing birthday cards, employee of the month, highest sales reward, etc.).

“There will be interruptions, and I don’t know when they will occur, and I don’t how deep they will occur, I do know they will occur from time to time, and I also know that we’ll come out better on the other end” -Warren Buffet

Keep a close watch on government guidelines and recommendations, the rules could change at any time and your approach needs to be flexible. Flexibility, open and honest communication and coherence to best practices will help ease the transition as you let your employees adapt to the “new normal” at the office.

*This article is not meant to be taken as medical advice. Please follow the advice of your local health authorities when making decisions about your own health and the people around you.
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